All posts by annaboisseau

Chicago’s former addicts help addicts recover

By Anna Boisseau

It’s nearly 12:30 p.m. when a rushed young man drops by the Chicago Recovery Alliance’s parked silver truck in West Garfield Park. He’s turned away for HIV testing, but told to come back next week, but just a bit earlier. The truck can’t be late for its next stop in Austin. If the staff and volunteers don’t show up, addicts might think the program, like others facing budget shortfalls, is unreliable. And that means next time they need clean syringes, they might not come back to the truck.

“If you don’t show up because it’s raining out or you know it’s going to be slow…then they might not get the stuff they need,” said John Gutenson, who has been with the program for 15 years. “And they might not rely on you the next time because you weren’t there.”

The number of participants fluctuates at each site, but non-profit Chicago Recovery Alliance (CRA)’s message stays the same: to advocate for any positive change. The organization’s idea is to reduce harm among drug users by giving them access to hygienic supplies like syringes and “cookers,” a small container used to prepare heroin for injection. CRA also provides information on how to use naloxone to overturn an overdose, and free testing for HIV and Hepatitis C.

If and when participants are ready to seek help for their addiction,  CRA can refer them to a treatment provider. But that doesn’t happen with everyone, and that’s not really the point. The alliance focuses on treating addicts like other humans, and letting them know someone cares about their wellbeing.

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Legislation Seeks to Double Food Stamps Buying Power at Farmers Markets

By Anna Boisseau

Farmers markets might seem like an unaffordable option for those on a limited food stamp budget, but that’s changing thanks to the double value coupon program. In most Chicago-based markets and some others across the state, food stamp recipients receive coupons to match up to $25 of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

“They can get high quality local food for the same price as they could get cheap processed grocery food,” said Kim Snyder, owner of Faith’s Farm in Bonfield, Ill.

Currently, with no state-wide funding for the program, many low-income Illinoisans are left without the financial means for healthier shopping at farmers markets. But a bill currently introduced into the Illinois House of Representatives, referred to as the “Healthy Food Incentives Fund,” could change that. The legislation proposes to carve out $1 million a year to endow coupon programs across the state.
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Growing Opportunities for Ex-Convicts in Urban Agriculture

By Anna Boisseau

Antonio Henry only recently learned he likes lunchbox peppers. “They’re so sweet, you can just eat them straight,” he said of the multi-colored vegetables that he learned to grow last summer at a local urban farm.

Henry is a former member of Windy City Harvest Corps, a 14-week program through the Chicago Botanic Garden that provides job training in urban agriculture for ex-convicts.

“At first I just thought it was a paycheck,” said Henry, who came into the program apathetic about urban farming. But after weeks of hands-on learning in the fields, he learned he has an affinity for growing peppers.

According to Paul Krysik, Henry’s crew leader last summer, most Corps-members start the program knowing nothing about farming and often grow to love it after “literally seeing the fruits of their labor.” Some participants actually begin to feel ownership over specific crops after cultivating them on the farms. “He would be like ‘these are my peppers,’” he said of Henry’s newfound love for the plant.
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Family Dinner Breaks Bread to Build Community

By Anna Boisseau

One hundred and fifty mainly strangers gathered for Saturday night’s sold out “Family Dinner” at STK, a River North restaurant. The dinner, a biannual event in Chicago and 30 other cities worldwide, hopes to build community among African American professionals through sharing a meal together.

“We want them to feel like they’re coming home,” said organizer Marquita Cunningham of the “family” aspect of the event. She said because it can be hard to meet people outside of work, Family Dinner is a chance to make new friends in the city.

This is why Jasmine Trice, a first-time Family Dinner attendee, came to the event. A busy professional, Trice said she rarely has time to socialize. “I want to make some type of meaningful relationships outside of work,” she said
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Blessings in a Dance Marathon: Northwestern Students Raise Money for Food Insecurity

By Anna Boisseau

Northwestern University’s Dance Marathon traditionally raises money for a health-related charity, but this year it went down a slightly different path. On March 4th-6th, students will dance for 30 hours straight to support nonprofit Blessings in a Backpack’s fight against food insecurity.

“It felt like it was time for a change,” said Arielle Miller, one of the co-executives of Dance Marathon (NUDM). After surveying what the students wanted, Miller said the executive board wanted to select an organization dedicated to an issue of inequality.

Blessings in a Backpack, which was People’s Magazine’s charity of the year in 2012, is the parent organization for the 943 sites in the United States that distribute weekend food to children in need. A teacher in Louisville founded the nonprofit in 2005 when she noticed how many children in her classrooms were going home hungry over the weekend.

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When Food Stamps Fall Short, Local Pantries Step In

By Anna Boisseau

The well-stocked food pantry at St. Ignatius Church saw few visitors on Wednesday at the start of January. According to volunteer Anita Goldstein that is because, as patrons can only visit once a month, they generally come towards the end once Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and paychecks have run out.

Those recipients who trickled in were given a robust supply of items like canned soups, pastries from Starbucks and some fresh produce options.

The pantry is one of 650 member agencies affiliated with the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD), which has dispensed food around Cook County since 1979. According to Paul Morello, who works for GCFD, the organization mainly provides support to its partner pantries and soup kitchens in the form of distribution of food from its main location. Some are further funded by grants and donations.
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Students Cooking Competition Reimagines Healthy Menus in Chicago Schools

By Anna Boisseau

Public school students across Chicago had special choices on their lunch menu last Thursday: a Cajun chicken lettuce wrap, roasted corn relish, and peach and yogurt pizza, all invented by four peers in the culinary program at George Washington High School. The young chefs won the city-wide Cooking Up Change competition put on by the Healthy Schools Campaign last October.

“The big picture is there is an obesity problem out there that we’re trying to address,” said Guillermo Gomez, the Vice President of Urban Affairs with the Healthy Schools Campaign. He said he sees the Cooking Up Change as a way to innovate school meals. “The student voice is very important. If we want to create healthier menus, then we should also get participation from the students.”

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South Side Diabetes Project Changing Nutritional Norms

By Anna Boisseau

Passersby at an Auburn Gresham Save-a-Lot sport a mixture of confusion and annoyance as they squeeze past the small gathering of 10, who are listening to Mary Lucy, a dietetic technician, speak about the appropriate daily portion size for servings of fruit.

“Bananas have a lot of sugar, right?” asks Gregory Thompson, one of the participants huddled near the orange selection.

“Yes, and that’s why you can only eat half a banana,” Lucy responds, flipping through her colorful measuring cups meant to demonstrate the healthy amount of carbs.

The shoppers are here for a grocery store tour by the South Side Diabetes Project. Founded by Dr. Monica Peek and Dr. Marshall Chin of the University of Chicago, one way the project combats the high rate of diabetes on Chicago’s South Side is through community outreach programs like this one. They have formed relationships with businesses that don’t typically partner with medical organizations, like Walgreens and Save-a-Lot.
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Food Insecurity Screenings to Expand to Chicago Suburbs

By Anna Boisseau

Cook County will expand a pilot nutrition program into a second health clinic in the Chicago suburbs in early February. Doctors first began the process of questioning pediatric patients about their access to food at the Logan Square Health Center in September. After the success of the initial program, the Greater Chicago Food Depository will start training staff at the Cottage Grove Clinic in Ford Heights on how to conduct food insecurity screenings next week.

“Food insecurity is everywhere,” said Jim Conwell of the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD). “A key part of launching this plan and this task force is also about…putting focus on the need…in suburban communities.”
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New Ordinance Brings New Opportunities for Urban Agriculture

By Anna Boisseau

CHICAGO—As part of the Food Justice and Sustainability weekend, dozens of local environmentalists came out on a frigid Sunday to learn more about Chicago’s new composting ordinance. Set to go into effect this spring, the ordinance will give urban farms and community gardens the chance to improve their compost piles. Some will even sell the finished product.

The ordinance creates two new categories of composters: larger scale urban farms, and tier two facilities, like community gardens. After registering with the city, these agricultural organizations can increase the size of their operation and include offsite materials. Though they cannot accept money for taking organic waste, urban farms will be able to sell their compost.

According to Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, these changes are important for urban farmers in Chicago because much of the city’s soil has a high lead level. “You can’t just grow crops on vacant lots because the soil might be contaminated,” she said.
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